Pennsylvania AG Promises ‘Thorough, Holistic, Wide-Ranging’ Investigation into Coronavirus Nursing Home Deaths

A patient is moved by an ambulance team at NewYork–Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in New York during the coronavirus pandemic. The great majority of people newly hospitalized with the coronavirus in New York are either retired or unemployed and were avoiding public transit, according to a …
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office on Monday confirmed that it is conducting a “thorough, holistic, and wide-ranging” investigation into nursing home deaths propelled by the Chinese coronavirus and the Wolf administration’s March guidance, which instructed long-term care facilities to admit stable individuals who had contracted the virus.

Members of the Pennsylvania Republican Congressional Delegation released a statement following a briefing with the attorney general’s office regarding the disproportionate number of nursing home deaths throughout the pandemic. The office reportedly promised a “‘thorough, holistic, and wide-ranging investigation’ into Coronavirus and Pennsylvania’s nursing homes ‘using all the tools the office has available.'”

The lawmakers said:

On June 25, 2020, Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis and eight members of the Pennsylvania Republican Congressional Delegation sent a letter to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro requesting a formal review of the impact of Governor Wolf’s March 18, 2020 guidance for nursing homes to readmit COVID-19 positive residents that would be made public so that the over 4,500 Pennsylvania families that suffered as a result of this deadly policy could have answers.

Today, July 6, 2020, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office briefed our offices by phone. The Attorney General’s office confirmed receipt of our letter, acknowledged that it is aware of the concerns expressed therein, and assured Pennsylvanians that the Attorney General’s office is conducting a “thorough, holistic, and wide-ranging investigation” into Coronavirus and Pennsylvania’s nursing homes “using all the tools the office has available.”

“The Pennsylvania delegation and members of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis remain committed to bringing transparency and accountability to Gov. Tom Wolf’s and Sec. Rachel Levine’s actions during the Coronavirus pandemic, especially as it relates to the unnecessary and tragic deaths of so many Pennsylvanians in nursing homes,” said the lawmakers, who outlined their initial concerns to Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) June 25 letter.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the elderly, especially those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” the lawmakers wrote at the time, urging the attorney general’s office to include the impact of Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) March 18, 2020 guidance in its investigation into “alleged inadequacies and negligence” in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic:

We understand that your investigation will not cover Governor Wolf’s March 18, 2020 guidance for nursing homes to readmit COVID-19 positive residents, thereby recklessly reintroducing the disease into the most vulnerable population. Therefore, we write requesting that you formally review the impact of this deadly policy and make your findings available to the citizens of Pennsylvania and the families of those who lost loved ones as a result of this deadly policy.

The March 18 guidance specifically instructed nursing care facilities to “continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable to alleviate the increasing burden in the acute care settings.”

“This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus,” the guidance stated.

“According to the most recent available data, Pennsylvania has suffered 4,467 nursing home deaths related to COVID-19,” the lawmakers continued in the June 25 letter. “That is more than 68% of the State’s total COVID-19 deaths and more than 3% of the State’s entire nursing home population.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s most recent data, viewed Monday afternoon, shows 4,593 coronavirus-related fatalities associated with nursing homes and personal care facilities. That represents 68 percent of the 6,754 coronavirus-related deaths across the entirety of the state.

Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s transgender health secretary, came under fire in May after it was revealed that Levine’s 95-year-old mother was removed from a nursing home despite the administration’s controversial guidance instructing nursing homes to readmit “stable” patients.

“My mother requested, and my sister and I as her children complied to move her to another location during the Covid-19 outbreak,” Levine said at the time. “My mother is 95 years old. She is very intelligent and more than competent to make her own decisions.”

Gov. Wolf in May said he welcomed an investigation but has also praised Levine for doing a “phenomenal job” in the administration’s response to the pandemic.

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